Sunday, January 14, 2018

Buyer beware of fake gift cards

I am not a gardener. Any plant I gaze upon shrivels and dies within minutes. Any plant I actually touch shrivels and dies within seconds.

Naturally, my oldest son loves to garden and has a green thumb. Every Spring, he heads to a Home Depot Garden Center to load up with plants, mulch, fertilizer, beanstalks or whatever it is that gardeners buy. So for Christmas, I gave him a Home Depot gift card.

I purchased it at a Staples store where it was hanging on a rack near the cash register. The rack contained hundreds of cards issued by Staples, chain restaurants, other retailers, iTunes, Visa, American Express, etc.

In my first draft of this post, I went into excruciating detail nobody in their right mind would want to read, explaining how I wound up buying a fake card.  It is a long, convoluted and, to me at least, intriguing story that involves criminal acts and behavior on someone's part but I can't tell you who that someone is because nobody knows.  I'll be happy to email it to you if you really want a blow-by-blow. Assuming you don't, the paragraph below will suffice.

The gift card I bought had no bar code on the back. I would not have been able to see that unless I removed it from the package it came in and examined it before I bought it. It did, however, have a die-cut window on the back side of the package that revealed a "real" bar code printed on a plastic tab. Once scanned by the Staples cashier, an account was created that told Home Depot there was a $100 credit. Unfortunately, someone, somewhere, got that credit and has most likely used it by now. Instructions said to remove the plastic tab after purchase. I not only removed it, I threw it away. Luckily, I kept the cash register receipt showing the digits associated with that code. I placed the fake card in a tin box decorated with flowers and gave it to my son. He picked up on the missing bar code instantly.

I took the fake card to my local Home Depot store, which said it wasn't their problem. So did the manager of the Staples store. I was unable to reach a human when I called Home Depot headquarters. I left a message on voicemail but nobody called me back.  Because I had used a credit card, I called the issuing bank to dispute the charge. The agent assured me I wouldn't be held responsible. It certainly wasn't the bank's fault either but they guarantee customer purchases so the bank is the real victim here.

Why am I telling you this? To warn you to be cautious when buying gift cards. I’ve since read that gift card fraud is rampant but the companies that issue them are keeping it quiet because gift cards,  despite all that fraud, are highly profitable. Some articles advise buying gift cards directly from the store/restaurant/etc. where they are to be used, not at a “big box” store or supermarket that sells card brands other than its own.

Gift cards are easy to buy and give but ...  beware. Make sure to examine any card you purchase from one of those hanging racks before you leave the store. That means you will probably have to remove it from the packaging and examine the reverse side which doesn't always show through.

And now I’m off to buy a “real” Home Depot gift card to replace the fraudulent one I gave my son.

Spring is just around the corner and, knowing him, he is already planning his garden.

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